On World Environment Day, let’s not waste food

June 5 is World Environment Day, and one easy thing we can do is to pledge not to waste so much food.

We toss out 40 percent of our food in the United States, and this wastefulness accounts for some of the depleted cropland and destroyed forests that are imperiling our ecosystem.

It’s also just plain costly.

Food waste in the United States, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, totals $165 billion per year. That comes to around $390 per person per year — approximately the cost of an airplane ticket over the Fourth of July weekend.

We’re wasting two-thirds of a pound of food every day. That’s roughly one hamburger, a scoop of potato salad, and one ear of corn.

Now imagine tossing that entire meal in the trash — every single day of the year.

Now imagine everyone in the country doing it.

Reclaiming just 15 percent of the wasted food in the United States could feed more than 25 million Americans each year, about half the number struggling with food insecurity. And food expert Tristram Stuart estimates that reclaiming 25 percent of the food wasted across the United States and Europe could end global malnutrition.

Here are some things you and I can do about this problem.

We can more carefully bag fruits and vegetables at checkout and learn the best way to store food at home so it doesn’t go bad so quickly.

We can stop discarding food just because it goes past the “sell by,” “best by,” and “use by” dates on food labels. These dates don’t indicate that the produce is unsafe to eat after that date, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Using our sense of smell and taste are the best way to tell if food has gone bad.

And we can stop demanding perfectly shiny, well-shaped and unblemished fruit. These strict aesthetic standards affect farmers worldwide, including in Kenya, where export farmers waste up to 40 percent of their harvest, while many locals struggle with malnutrition.

Just because the produce isn’t shiny and unblemished doesn’t mean it isn’t healthy and tasty. It may actually be more nutritious and delicious with blemishes because it probably got doused with fewer pesticides.

Finally, donating unused food instead of tossing it in the garbage can help make the most of global food production. Information on how to donate food or receive food assistance is easily accessible through Feeding America, which runs a national food bank locator. You can also help restaurants and grocery stores donate unused food with services such as Food Donation Connection, which link businesses with food recovery organizations.

On this World Environment Day, let’s be mindful not only of the food we eat but also of the food we throw out. We can save money and help preserve the environment in the process.

Danielle Nierenberg is a food and agriculture expert and co-founder of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank (www.FoodTank.org). She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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